I suppose it would be easy to dismiss director Alfonso Cuaron’s (Children of Men) as another sci-fi film except that I see the film as something else. It is a near real-time, high caliber popcorn film that delivers dramatic tension, jaw-dropping suspense and spectacular visuals. Despite the fact that it lacks complex themes save for the triumph of the human spirit, the film has a very simple yet brilliantly-weaved story.
The film begins with a trio of spacewalking astronauts who have been tasked with repairing a telescope. When Mission command in Houston reports that flying debris is headed their way and as it crashes their shuttle, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is sent spinning out of orbit. Her fellow traveler and commanding officer, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) whose pressure suit has thrusters manages to recover her. Heading back to their shuttle, the two discover that space shuttle Explorer has been destroyed with all of its crew killed. Their only option is to try to make it to the closest thing possible; a Russian space satellite with hopefully functional escape pods.
The film is shot in almost real time and it is pure 90 minute rollercoaster ride as the two astronauts are faced with one different danger after another. Cuaron and his co-writer/son Jonas kept upping the stakes and the ante in its runtime, as the two lead characters become faced with intensely gripping obstacles that mount. It was incredible as to how the writing was able to make my jaw drop, as it was the near-perfect merging of character reaction and gorgeous visuals. The direction easily inspires a sense of claustrophobia, frustration and fear, as I was caught anticipating just what would happen next. I felt for the plight of Stone and Kowalski, and felt every moment of emotional frustration and hopelessness.
The characters became the driving force of the film. As they try to grab hold of anything, the tension mounts, and I easily felt myself rooting for Ryan and feared for her. You see the training, the calm demeanor, and the way they dealt with every situation. Panic turns into courage, courage into resolve, resolve comes to a solution and that solution offers hope. The emotions in the screenplay were strongly presented by Sandra Bullock, and if you were one of the ones who doubted her acting chops with her best actress performance in “The Blind Side”, her performance in this film would definitely win you over. It is very difficult for one solitary actress to engage in a film and Bullock pulls it off with flying colors.
It would be easy to become engulfed with the film’s spectacular visuals; as “Avatar” was meant to be shot in 3D, “Gravity” is another such film that IMAX 3D has greatly enhanced its viewing experience. This is one film that seeing it in the biggest screen and the loudest theater sound system would totally immerse you in cinematic wonder. With the use of unbroken shots, the director was able to realistically replicate the perfect feeling of zero gravity. There is no friction in space, so nothing can stop a human body from moving in any direction. As the characters spin as they try to steer, they try to grab hold of anything, the shots were taken to immerse the viewer into this sensation. The film also has exquisite detail as I even noticed the reflections off a tear drop, and the effects of oxygen on fire. The way the objects were animated were very natural as I found myself wondering how the filmmakers managed to pull off such shots.
“Gravity” is a 90-minute thrill ride, but the writers also made some steps to slow things down. The set pieces in space were just amazing; as the visuals presented an environment filled with wonder and beauty. To slow things down, there is a small ball of fire, a sight of the Northern lights and a possible hurricane from space or as Bullock tries to catch her breath as she tries to pressurize her suit. Clooney also served up some light-hearted conversation and even humor; these moments proved to be the film’s efforts at light characterization as the viewers themselves manage to catch a breather.
To be sure that “Gravity” may be one of the more impressive films visually as well as one of the most visceral ones from Hollywood. Yes, it is a popcorn movie with its share of inaccuracies when it comes to physics and science, but it is a popcorn flick that feels so blazingly fresh and original. It does not overreach, it manages to temper its ambitions and keeps things simple yet focused. It may be one of the best popcorn movies of this past decade, as it can leave your palms sweaty and your mouth open (for flies to fly in). Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” was borne with thoughts and rich with themes, this film celebrates spectacle all wrapped up nicely in a very simple yet brilliantly conceived story. It is sensational. Highly Recommended. [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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